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Emotional Support for Cancer Patients: A Guide for Caregivers

Emotional Support for Cancer Patients: A Guide for Caregivers

When someone in the family is diagnosed with cancer, it is truly a difficult ordeal. You have to regroup and work as a unit to take action to achieve successful treatment. Often, treatment happens while you are still in the process of accepting the situation. With everything that’s going on, how can family members offer emotional support for cancer patients?

Prepare Yourself

Before you can offer emotional support for cancer patients, you need to process everything first.

Learning that someone in the family has cancer is difficult and you may need time to grieve. Acknowledge the situation first and try to cope with your emotions. Experts say that if you ignore your feelings about the diagnosis, you may not be able to focus on the patient well.

After coming to terms with your loved one’s condition, you can start learning more about their condition. This is because caring for a cancer patient demands a certain level of knowledge about the cancer type.

Furthermore, you need to learn about the particular cancer within the context of your loved one’s personal needs.

Learning about cancer can also be helpful if the patient refuses to talk about his or her diagnosis.

Cancer: All You Need to Know

Put Yourself in the Patient’s Shoes

Supporting someone with cancer in the family could be difficult if you cannot understand the patient.

Look back on the instances when you were sick and afraid. How did you feel? What did you want to talk about? Moreover, don’t forget to consider your loved one’s personality.

Taking their personality into account, what’s the best way to care for them?

Don’t be Afraid to Strike up a Conversation

In the fear of saying something wrong, caregivers sometimes choose to remain quiet and just talk when it’s about the patient’s physical and medical needs.

When you’re supporting someone with cancer in the family, you don’t need to limit the conversation topics to medications, chemotherapy, and other medical procedures.

After all, using words is one of the best ways to give emotional support to cancer patients.

But what are you going to talk about?

In striking up a conversation, you can take note of the following tips:

  • Be honest when things get awkward and allow for sadness. Experts say that acknowledging the awkwardness is better than pretending that the situation is not happening.
  • Let them know that you’re ready to listen when they need someone to talk to.. And of course, be available when they do want to speak with you.
  • Let them focus on conversation topics that make them feel good. Consider striking up a conversation about sports, pets, travel, or religion.
  • Allow them to keep an active role as your loved one. You can do this by asking for their advice and opinions about matters that concern you.
  • Focus on uplifting words like “I care about you”, “I think about you”, or “What are you planning to do? How can I help?”
  • Be generous with honest compliments like, “You look well rested today.”

Finally, during your conversations, give them allowance for feeling down, silent, or withdrawn. In other words, it’s okay to allow your loved one to be “negative” from time to time. Don’t take it personally when they seem angry or upset.

Chemotherapy in Cancer Treatment: All You Need to Know

Avoid Unhelpful Remarks and Actions

Comments such as, “I know just what you’re going through”, “Everything will be alright”, or “Don’t worry about anything” do not give emotional support for cancer patients.

Most of the time, the patient only feels bad after hearing such remarks because it puts pressure on them to act a certain way.

Another important tip is to not make the patient feel left out. During a family gathering or when there are more people in the room, avoid talking as if the patient is not present. Include them in the conversation.

Finally, always assume that they can hear you even if they appear to be sleeping or resting.

Provide Emotional Support through Touch

Supporting someone with cancer in the family can be done through touch. Don’t hesitate to give them a tight embrace or a hand squeeze. These simple gestures can go a long way.

Focus on the Little Things

At the end of the day, experts say that the little things you do speak volumes on how much you care for and support your loved one.

To provide emotional support for cancer patients, you can:

  • Bring home simple gifts to them from time to time.
  • Make plans to give them something to look forward to.
  • Respect their privacy and boundaries.
  • Share a good laugh at appropriate moments.
  • Go for a walk and allow them to connect to the community.
  • Cook or bring them their favorite food.
  • Have a movie night or an outing that will not tire them out.
  • Listen to music and sing together.

Keep the Relationship as Normal as Possible

Keeping the relationship as normal as possible can be difficult, especially when a lot of things have already changed due to your loved one’s condition. But experts say it’s an important part of providing emotional support for cancer patients.

Treating them the same way before their diagnosis sends a message that you won’t let cancer get in the way of your relationship.

Allow your loved one to do the activities they’re doing before – only, scale them down to a level appropriate to their current energy and capacity. Don’t change the way you talk and act around them because of their condition.

Key Takeaways

Your role as a caregiver to a cancer patient may be challenging, but it’s important. Through you, the patient can have the mental and emotional support he or she needs to cope with cancer.

Remember to prepare first before you empathize with the patient. Keep your communication lines open, give support through touch, and remember that the little things matter.

When things get tough, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. There could be times when the patient needs expert help from a counselor.

Learn more about Cancer here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Supporting a Friend Who Has Cancer
Accessed September 9, 2020

How to support someone with cancer
Accessed September 9, 2020

How to Be a Friend to Someone with Cancer
Accessed September 9, 2020

16 Ways to Support Someone with Cancer
Accessed September 9, 2020

10 Tips for Supporting a Friend with Cancer
Accessed September 9, 2020

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Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. Updated Jun 15
Medically reviewed by John Paul Ferolino Abrina, M.D.